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Palestinian boy’s operation crosses boundaries
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Palestinian boy’s operation crosses boundaries

With help from NJ-based foundation, a Gaza child can face the future with confidence

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian boy from the Gaza Strip was treated for a severe facial deformity at Israel’s Soroka University Medical Center, thanks to a fund facilitated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

Coming just two weeks after Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire, the operation provided a counterpoint to the grim news of cross-border attacks and reprisals.

Seven-year-old Muchsan Achmed was born with a bilateral complete cleft lip and palate, which left his face disfigured.

Muchsan's family had two choices: to go to Egypt for a cheap operation or to Israel for a very expensive one. Understandably, they tried Egypt first.

According to physicians at Soroka, the operation Muchsan underwent in Egypt made things worse for the boy. The hospital removed his premaxilla, the bones in his upper jaw.

This led to an even more pronounced facial deformity for Muchsan, who lives in a community where a cleft lip or other abnormality can be a source of shame or ostracism. When the Achmed family saw what happened, they knew that an Israeli hospital was their only hope. Soroka is in Be’er Sheva and is the main hospital serving Israel’s southern Negev region.

But Israel was in a state of high alert following months of rocket attacks from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. When Israel began Operation Pillar of Defense on Nov. 14 in an effort to end the rocket attacks, it could have signaled the end of hope for Muchsan.

But a week after the Nov. 21 ceasefire, Muchsan arrived at Soroka to undergo an operation by Dr. Eldad Silberstein, the head of the hospital's craniofacial plastic surgery department and an expert on head and neck reconstructive plastic surgery.

“This was a very complicated case,” Silberstein said. “It is unusual to have missing premaxilla.”

Silberstein found a way to reconstruct Muchsan's premaxilla using a bone graft harvested from the child's pelvis. This was secured with a micro-plate and covered with intraoral mucosal flaps. The boy spent one night in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and, according to his doctor, “his post-operative early follow-up is uneventful.”

The operation was successful yet very expensive.

The Plastic Surgery Fund of the Mortimer J. Harrison Trust, named for the New York-based investor and philanthropist, was used in the past for reconstructive operations on immigrants from the former Soviet Union, adolescents who had not yet received the compulsory insurance that covers Israeli citizens. Its procedures have been carried out through the cooperation of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Greater MetroWest federation, and a number of Israel’s hospitals.

Max Kleinman, the federation’s executive vice president/CEO, serves as the key facilitator.

Harrison trustees Dr. Frances Stern Lashinsky and Arthur Lashinsky, who now live in Florida, are former residents of MetroWest who have been — on the trust’s behalf and in their own right — major benefactors to the federation through a variety of projects and are members of its Lester Society.

According to the couple, healing disfigured teens is one of the trust’s priorities.

Amir Shacham — associate executive vice president for Israel and Overseas of the Greater MetroWest federation — has said the initiation and operation of the Plastic Surgery Fund is “one of the purest, highest, and most unique mitzvas that we have the privilege of doing.”

He said the fund would soon cover more operations for Palestinians and Bedouin.

“We saw this as a special opportunity to save the life of a child who without the operation would have been an outcast in Palestinian society,” said Shacham, who is based in Israel. “It is a very big mitzva to save a child's life. The fact that Israel, with the support of American Jews, is helping a child from Gaza shows that the Jewish state cares about its neighbors. We do this despite all the rockets that fell, proving that there is more than hatred that crosses borders. There is also hope for the future that knows no boundaries.”

Soroka's spokeswoman said the Achmed family could not be found for comment, but Silberstein said Muchsan's parents were very thankful.

Silberstein said he hoped cases like Muchsan's could lead to future cooperative coexistence.

“When we operate on people, we don't look at where a person or child comes from, even if he lives in a place where missiles were fired toward us two weeks before,” Silberstein said. “We don't blame him. We take care of everyone. That's what we do.”

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